The Emergence of Sean (1C)outurier

What was born in the USA, wears a lot of orange, is missing some teeth, and is something Evgeni Malkin checks underneath his bed for each night?

While Gritty would make plenty of sense… If you answered with “Sean Couturier,” you and I are on the same page. If you said anything else, you probably have a better imagination than mine.

The Jeff Carter trade in 2011, among other moves around the same time, forced Flyers fans into a frenzy. It’s not exactly common for a team to ship off the guy who led the team in goals scored 3 seasons in a row. This trade would send Jakub Voracek, a 2011 1st round pick, and a 2011 3rd round pick to Philadelphia. Two of these assets would become core pieces of this current Flyers team, and the other would become Nick Cousins.

When the Flyers drafted Sean “Coots” Couturier in 2011 with the 8th overall pick, he was billed as a strong two-way forward with good offensive upside. Coots spent his junior hockey career with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL, where he quickly made an impact in his first year. The Voltigeurs would win their first President’s Cup in Couturier’s rookie season, in which he placed 10th on the team in points. He would follow up this rookie campaign with a 96-point second season, enough to lead the QMJHL in points for the 2010 season. Coots would then match his 96 points in his third and final QMJHL season, despite playing in 10 fewer games. This would earn him the Michel Brière Memorial Trophy for league MVP, as well as the Mike Bossy Trophy for the honor of best professional prospect of the QMJHL.

Coots would go on to make the Flyers’ roster for the 2011-2012 season. His impacts as a two-way forward were immediately noticed, earning himself not only a spot on the roster but also time on the penalty kill. Coots’ efforts would later land him among the league’s best rookies at the All-Star game, where he would also participate in the Breakaway Challenge portion of the Skills Competition. He broke out some fancy moves and scored on Carey Price despite a brutal onslaught of distractions from the all-star netminder.

His most notable rookie successes, however, would come during the postseason. A first-round battle between the Flyers and Penguins would require Couturier to match up against one of the league’s best in Evgeni Malkin. I’ll admit I had my doubts and concerns about throwing a rookie up against an elite player. But Coots quickly reminded me why he was an NHL talent and why I was still a lowly college student screaming at a hockey game on his laptop.

Coots would render Malkin nearly ineffective while the two were on the ice together. At even strength, Malkin recorded a whopping one point playing against Coots. Game 2 of the series would see Coots record his first career hat trick as part of a 4-point effort. His performance in this absolutely insane series would cement him as a dependable two-way player for years to come.

As great of a two-way player as he was built up to be, it took several years for Coots to fully develop his offensive skill set at the NHL level. Over the course of the following three seasons, Coots’ point production would remain below the 0.5 points-per-game (PPG) mark, despite sound positional and defensive play. Fans grew complacent with his lack of offensive development, with many penciling him in as a 3rd line forward, at best. It’s also worth noting that playing on a line with the likes of Zac Rinaldo, Matt Read, Steve Downie, and RJ Umberger for large portions of this time isn’t ideal for point production. Slight improvements were made in the following 2 seasons with Coots PPG registering at 0.62 PPG in the 2015-2016 season and 0.52 PPG the following year. Where Coots really began to take off was not necessarily his point totals but his possession stats. His possession stats also saw a bump these 2 seasons with his Corsi For (CF) percentages settling at 54.27% and 54.69%, respectively. According to Ken Wilson of the Calgary Herald, a CF of around 55% or higher is considered elite. His Scoring Chances For (SCF) percentages also shot from the upper 40s to 56.83% and 54.44% in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons respectively. For anyone who doesn’t like the whole numbers/analytics thing, that’s good. Real good.

Preceding the 2017-2018 season, it was announced that Coots would be moved up to the first line center position, with Claude Giroux moving to the wing. Skeptical Flyers fans were up in arms over moving Giroux, the team’s best player, away from center and missing out on his dominance on faceoffs. This, however, would end up as one of the very, very few things Dave Hakstol did right in his ~3.5-year-long-that-felt-like-7-year-long tenure as head coach.

Coots and Giroux had breakout seasons. Coots would set personal records for goals and assists (31g, 45a) in what became his best year. Giroux would follow suit in setting his own personal records and eclipsing the 100pt mark for the first time in his NHL career. The Flyers had an absolutely dominant duo between Giroux and Coots. It was clear that the two had abundant chemistry and made each other better players.

Despite the two being broken up for much of this season due to concerns regarding center depth, Coots remains as productive as ever. As I type this, Coots sits at a very nice 69 points in 70 games. His possession stats remain borderline elite, and the line of Lindblom-Coots-Voracek has been the Flyers’ absolute best over the past few games. Coots has gone from someone who benefited from playing with Claude Giroux to someone who makes the players around him better.

It’s been a remarkable journey for Coots. Born in Phoenix, AZ, moved to Bathurst, NB where his minor hockey career began, drafted by the Drummondville Voltigeurs, and then drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers where he has developed into one of the NHL’s elite two-way forwards. He comes at an insane bargain as well, with a $4.3m cap hit through the end of the 2021-2022 season. The Flyers have found their 1C for years to come, and would be wise to keep Coots and Giroux together going forward. And just imagine if the Flyers go out this offseason and land someone like Panarin or Skinner to play on the top line with them. Easily a top 5 (if not top 3) candidate for best line in the league.

To wrap up this article about the Flyers’ version of Patrice Bergeron, here’s Coots dunking on Sidney Crosby and Matt Murray again because it never gets old.

-Brian Adams (@Wx_Adams)

Photo Creds: NBCSports, The Hockey News, Bruce Bennett via Zimbio

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